When I couldn’t find Mount Vernon, Maine – or even the nearest city, Augusta – in my guidebook, I should have been tipped off. But it was only when searching for nearby restaurants once we arrived and only finding a few lobster roll stands and drive-ins that I really knew this wasn’t exactly the place for a foodie.
But I can’t blame Central Maine. That’s just not it’s thing, and that’s OK. Instead, bordered by crystal-clear Echo Lake, a profound silence and endless, deep greenery, it’s a popular place for campgrounds – which is actually what brought us here in the first place.
Shut in my house due to coronavirus, I actually haven’t spent much time in the kitchen (unless that entails standing in front of the pantry eating Doritos). Instead, I’ve left the cooking to my boyfriend Mike, who normally works most nights as a bartender but since restaurants in New Jersey have been closed for dining-in, has been stuck at home as my personal chef.
Not that it’s much of a difference than what my average cooking routine entails. Since starting a weight loss plan about a year ago, I cook pretty boring meals at home – think baked salmon, grilled zucchini, a warmed-up 70-calorie brownie if I’m feeling adventurous.
Just a few years ago, though, the kitchen was my favorite place to be. After finally learning some cooking basics from my college roommate Alex – prior to that, I was raised on microwave meals, although I loved real food – I headed to Italy for a semester in Florence and, as any smart college kid does, I signed up for a Pairing Food And Wine class.
A huge sushi fan, I’ve been dying to go to Japan. However, when I found that Taipei, Taiwan – the last destination of our Asian journey – was known as the best city to find Japanese cuisine outside of Japan, I was pretty thrilled.
Being that Mike’s birthday fell during our trip, I hoped to take him to Nomura, a Michelin-starred sushi eatery in Taipei. However, by the time I was able to ask the concierge at our hotel to call for a reservation, they were all booked up.
As a food writer, I relish in the luxurious routine that goes into preparing for an upscale meal out.
I like poring over the menu at lunchtime; choosing the most interesting entrée and the most calculatingly-paired appetizer. I like taking my search to the internet and digging up photos of intriguing dishes. I like drinking just a tad too much wine and feeling courageous enough to say things I normally wouldn’t. I especially like coming home just exhausted enough that I don’t feel the need to put my purse away and instead, know I’m in for a solid night’s sleep.
When I travel, this becomes much more fun. I can check out restaurants I’ve only read about, try foods I can barely pronounce and delve far beyond my usual 20-mile dining radius.
As a food writer, the restaurants I hear about most are the ones with dedicated PR teams, high-resolution press photos and a constant barrage of events that make for quick and easy stories for our news site – the most expensive and upscale restaurants that the Garden State can offer.
To not much surprise, then, I’ve always been a little infatuated with these five-star eateries that, as a teen living with my single mom, I could only drive by. Hell, I didn’t even have something to wear to these types of places even if I could go.
When I worked as an advertising account manager in 2013 and 2014 (thank god that’s over) my main job duty was to pretty much call every business in Morris County and solicit them for advertising. I always got interesting – sometimes rude and sometimes surprisingly receptive – answers from whoever had the misfortune of picking up my bored call. However, I still remember what the busy employee at Pub 199 said to me when I called them on one fateful day.
When New Jersey culinary legend Andrea “Andy” Clurfeld – 30-year food journalist, former James Beard Awards Committee member and Pulitzer Prize finalist – tells you that you just have to check out a new restaurant, you go.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I’m always pretty psyched to tell them that I write about local travel and food in my Tuesday column and our Wednesday Table section.
Immediately, they usually have quite a few questions.
“How do you find restaurants to review?”
“What if a restaurant turns out to be bad?”
Every time, I launch into my usual speech — I don’t review anything. I only write about restaurants that I like in the first place, but as a journalist, I was trained that no one cares about your opinion. So in my food/restaurant stories, which often sneak into my travel column as well as my Table stories, I never critique the restaurant.
Today, I’m an ever-hungry Jersey food writer for this blog as well as Gannett New Jersey’s MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com, which congregate from the Courier News, Home News Tribune and Daily Record. But as a kid, I was labeled as a picky eater.
Today, I also know better. I was never a picky eater – I was a selective eater.
I crinkled my nose at bologna sandwiches at lunchtime and my mother’s dinnertime microwave meals. I passed on frozen pizza and plastic-looking macaroni. I wasn’t interested in questionable buffet items or soggy french fries.
However, I was definitely down to try colorful sushi rolls, exotic meats and other eloquently prepared dishes that I had never seen in a school cafeteria or even in my own fridge. I’m still the same way today – I gravitate towards something a little stylish, a little fashionable or a little odd over a burger any day, most of which I’m totally incapable of cooking or creating myself.
Many of these dishes that I love the most tend to be of Asian influence – I could eat Thai, Filipino, Japanese and Chinese cuisine every day of the week. However, there are two outstanding issues with this – one, I frequently don’t really know what I’m ordering and two, I’m often dropping quite a chunk of change at fancy restaurants.
I really love sushi. But being that I’m also poor, the sushi joints I go to tend to be a little shady, all-you-can-eat, 50 percent off when you pay cash and housed in dingy corners of town.
On most nights when we are craving sushi, my boyfriend, Mike, and I tend to head to Kumo Asian Bistro, a much-untapped sushi restaurant in downtown Somerville that offers all-you-can-eat sushi and sashimi for $23 per person on a weekday and $25 per person on a weekend. The huge restaurant, which has incredibly fresh fish for what you pay, tends to be mostly empty, quiet and relaxing.
However, last night, I really wanted to try Shumi, a high-end Somerville sushi eatery that has frequently been called New Jersey’s best sushi restaurant. Mike told me, “Just so you know, it’s a little expensive,” but we had no idea the hits our wallets would be taking until much later.